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After posing that question, the executive I was having lunch with went on to explain he had always tried to create a family-like environment at his company. “You know, having fun, hanging out, being one of the gang.”

Now he was faced with some of his staff not performing. When he tried to address it they pushed back saying “You’ve changed”, or “You’re overreacting”, or worse. 

It’s a tough question and one that many managers and leaders struggle to answer.

It doesn’t matter if you are new to a management role or, like my friend, someone who has been leading people for several decades.

Can you be friends with the people that work for you? 

The old adage is you can be friendly but not friends.

As a new manager back in a decade that started with a “9”, I took that advice. Many of my friends were now my employees. I all but stopped socializing with them. There were no more parties, no more weekend trips on the houseboat, and no grabbing a drink after work.

Oh sure, we still did team happy hours occasionally (hey, it was the 90’s) but for the most part, I became “management”. 

It took me a long time to realize that old adage was, well… BS.

I think the reason our managers and mentors espoused that adage was because it makes the tough times easier.

It is far easier to have those tough conversations about performance or layoffs if you don’t know what is going on in their personal life.

They may be going through a divorce, or have elderly parents who are in failing health, or have kids that are struggling in school…you know, all the real stuff that doesn’t make it to Facebook. 

Do you know them?

I now believe you have to know those in your office on a personal level.

How else are you going to lead them?

  • Knowing them helps you to celebrate with them when their kid enters kindergartner or gets accepted into college.
  • Knowing them helps you connect, we all (even leaders) crave connection, we are human after all!
  • Knowing them helps you to lead with empathy and compassion.

Yes, those tough conversations are tougher…on us, they were always tough on the other person. If those types of conversations are ever easy…you are in the wrong job! 

But, it is a two-way street.

Do they know you?

To form those relationships you have to let your employees see you for who you are.

Tell them about the joy of a new grandchild, or the pain of the death of a parent. To form those relationships you have to be vulnerable. 

For the leader who asked the question… be vulnerable.

  • Tell them about the sleepless nights worrying about making payroll.
  • Tell them how you feel the weight of 200 individuals and their 200 families.
  • Tell them about the gnawing in the pit of your stomach every day as you care for your business almost like your child.

If they don’t respond with empathy and compassion towards you, if they don’t see you as a friend, but also a leader who has to have tough conversations, if they don’t rally to the mission at hand, perhaps you don’t have the relationship you thought you had. 

I would love to hear your thoughts! Please comment (or email) on this topic. Have a leadership question you would like to ask? Send me a note. I am happy to share my thoughts and have others chime in as well! 

What is your vision for the future

Do you know your vision?

I’ve spoken about connections to the past quite often. Vision plays a role.

Call them connections, call them reminders, call them divine coincidences, sometimes the universe ties events of the past with things transpiring today. Sometimes they are “huh, that was interesting” moments and sometimes they hold powerful lessons if we choose to look. 

I subscribe to the newsletter series by Jason Barnaby of Fire Starters (if you don’t subscribe, you should). Jason sends out quick thoughts three times a week. In his Monday blast (aptly titled M3 – Monday Morning Motivation), a few weeks ago Jason spoke of vision, but not just vision. Repeated here, with permission, Jason said:

“If you are a leader, whose permission are you waiting for to lead?”

“If you serve a magnificent God, do you have a magnificent vision to match?”

“These are two quotes by T.D. Jakes from the Global Leadership Summit several years ago that I think about at least once a week. They had a PROFOUND effect on my life’s direction and what I am doing now with Fire Starters Inc.”

Even if you aren’t a person of faith, the question of magnificent vision still applies.

So how is your vision for what you are currently doing and hope to do in the future?

      • Are you happening to it or is it happening to you?
      • Are you being proactive or reactive?
      • Worse yet, are you living someone else’s vision for your life? 

You have gifts, talents, abilities, experience, wisdom, and insight that the world is waiting on and desperately needs.

As many of Jason’s posts do…it got me thinking.

I talk to Information Technology departments (and HR and Marketing departments, too) a lot about vision.

We discuss how to create one, how to communicate it and how to define and execute strategies to achieve it.

But…

What about my own vision?

Is it a magnificent vision?

And, what of leadership?

What of my leadership? 

Wow, pretty heady stuff for a Monday morning! But this post is about connections, right?

Then it happened.

My son, Brad, was dropping off his son, Jordan, for another fabulous day with grandma. When he arrived, he handed me a folder. “Mom found this as she and Randy were packing for their move. She thought you might want it.” 

In the folder was a picture. The picture was taken about 34 years ago. A picture of my dad, holding on to my two sons, Jeremy and Brad.

A vision I could follow

Having just visited my dad the day before lying in bed at the nursing home, seeing the fifty-five-year-old version of my dad was a bit shocking, to say the least.

The man in that picture is six years younger than I am today. Yet in a 35-year blink of an eye, he is nearing the end of his journey. 

The folder also contained an old newspaper. A copy of the Indiana Baptist Observer from December 1995. There on page one was a letter from my dad to the American Baptist Churches of Indiana reflecting upon his pending retirement on the 31st of that month. In it, he reflects back on his 40 years in the ministry with the realization that his calling, the calling he had been following his entire career (and perhaps his entire life), was a call to lead.

Dad was a great preacher, teacher, coach, and counselor, yet, his calling was to lead…and lead he did! 

Though he never used the words “magnificent vision” (or, even vision for that matter), what jumped off the page to me was his magnificent vision for the churches he served and for the denomination organizations he led. He had a vision for what they could be and what they could accomplish.

Others followed too 

He also wrote of his vision for the future of the church, the challenges ahead, and the need for a new generation of leaders to help the church navigate that future.

Jason’s quote of T.D. Jakes rang in my ears.

“If you are a leader, whose permission are you waiting for to lead?”

Gene Ton would say,

“If you are being called to lead, why aren’t you listening to that call to lead?”

Whether it is for a church, a business, or your family, friends, and organizations…quit sitting back waiting on others: lead, my friend, lead!

You might be surprised how many others believe in your vision, too. 

Now, before you jump to any conclusions and think I am breaking up with my wife, Carmen, or worse yet, that I have become a Neil Sedaka fan, let me assure you neither of those horrific things is true!

business, leadership, Breaking Up is Hard to DoOver the last several months, I have been struggling with the decision to leave a job that I love and to embark on a journey down a new stretch of river. Yes, I am leaving the role of CIO for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana to join Bluelock, an Indiana tech company that provides Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS) infrastructure and services, as EVP of Product and Service Development. So, after 35 years of being in Corporate IT, the last 10 of which as CIO, I am switching sides of the desk and joining a firm whose product IS technology.

Now, mind you, I absolutely love Goodwill. I firmly believe in the mission, I love the vision and direction, and will continue to support the organization with my time, talents and treasures as best as I am able. However, as sad as I am to leave this organization, I am just as excited about joining my new organization and pushing off to paddle into the unknown (note the veiled Lewis and Clark reference).

How I came to this decision reminds me a lot of how Carmen and I came to the decision to marry. You see, we had been business colleagues and friends for years. As we each went through our divorces, dating, bad break ups and more dating, more break ups, we started to hang out together more and more. We celebrated the highs of new relationships, shared the laughs of life’s journey and held each other through the tears of another break up.

I can’t tell you how hard we laughed, when a well intentioned Maitre D’ seated us at “our most romantic table”. Oh, my god no! We are just friends! Even our friends got in on the act, saying, “You should date Carmen” or “You should date Jeff”. OH. MY. GOD. NO! We are just friends! We don’t want to ruin our friendship!

A few months later, while sitting on her couch, we looked at each other and asked, “So, when did we start dating?” The rest, as they say is history! A match made in heaven, a match with a foundation of friendship, a match of kindred souls.

I have been joking for a couple of years now that if I ever left Goodwill, I would join Bluelock. Maybe subconsciously I was only half joking. At any rate, early in January this year, the CEO of Bluelock and I met for breakfast. Honest, we were just friends! Actually, we were client/provider. We ended up having a great conversation about business, technology and transforming a startup to steady-state. The conversation went so well, we decided to meet again to continue the conversation.

As the months flew by, we didn’t quite look at each other and ask when we started dating, but the dialogue did shift to “what would it look like if…”, and eventually, to “how do we make this happen?”

As great as the opportunity sounded, I was conflicted. I had spent 25 years of my 35 year career aspiring to be a CIO, now I was going to walk away from it? Not to mention, I would be switching sides of the desk, moving to the dark side, becoming an evil vendor, would my friends and colleagues still return my calls? I had spent the last several years building a network of CIOs and IT leaders (Indy CIO Network), could I still lead that group effectively?

I reached out to my trusted advisers: my wife, my mentors, a couple members of the Indy CIO Network, my executive coach, and my dad. Each and every conversation reinforced what I was thinking and feeling, one by one they helped me answer all of the questions swirling around in my mind. Before my most recent coaching session, my coach (Dr. Dan Miller) came into my office and said, “come on, we’re going to do something different today.” With that, we walked to the corner overlooking the river.

“The city is not there, these sidewalks are not here. The traffic is gone. You are here among the trees looking out over the river. What are you thinking? What are you feeling?” After about 10 minutes, he said, “let’s head back and do our session.”

Before we crossed the street, I stopped and said, “Thank you. Thank you for making me stop and think. It is the first time I have stopped in months.”

Later, in our session, as I described the company and my new role. Dan stopped me and said, “You’ve already decided. Quit fretting and embrace it.”

Just as our friends were right many years ago, he could not have been more right about this.

So, as I wrap up my last few days at a great organization, with fantastic people, I look ahead to joining a great organization, with fantastic people. I am excited about the waters ahead!

 

Want to exchange ideas on Twitter (@jtonindy)?
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Interested in IT and it’s role in business? Check out my posts on Intel’s IT Peer Network.

 

leadership, education, business, transformationNo, this post is not about a 2015 version of the 80’s band, Flock of Seagulls. Nor, is it really about a flock of geese (lovingly referred to as Sky Carp by my friend Lance). This post is really about the lessons I learned while attending “Transforming Your Leadership Strategy” conducted by MIT Sloan Executive Education. I often joke that I feel smarter just by stepping on campus here in Cambridge. But, it really is no joke, I really do gain new insights each and every time I attend one of the classes here.

I believe what makes these courses unique and extremely valuable are the students themselves. The diversity of the participants is incredible. The countries and therefore the cultures represented included Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Kingdom, Greece, Spain, Ghana, France, Nigeria, Canada, Denmark, Brazil, and, of course, the United States. The industries represented ranged from NGO’s, government agencies, banking, retail, financial, Army, and education (and many others).  To be able to gather with these 60 professionals and discuss leadership was indeed a privilege.

Professor Deborah Ancona led the group through a series of interactive lectures and exercises over the course of two days. She use an unique approach by varying the sizes of the small group activities from two to five, with the stipulation that for each new exercise you had to group with different people. The goal was to meet and speak with everyone in the class. I lost track, but I think I came pretty close to achieving that goal (a pretty amazing feat for an introvert!).business, leadership, education, transformation

I don’t plan to recount all of the sessions from the last two days (to get that level of detail, you need to attend the class!). However, the goal of taking any course like this is to learn something (or be reminded of something) and to take action. After all, you can’t transform your leadership strategy if you don’t take action. Professor Ancona actually gave me a leg up on writing this blog with the last activity of the course. We were to review our notes and list three things we wanted to remember and three actions we wanted to take. Then, in groups of five, we were to share those things. Honestly, the hard part was keeping it to only three! But, here goes:

Lesson Number 1: Leadership is Personal – this was the first notation in my journal, but it probably struck me the most. You can take dozens of leadership classes, you can read thousands of books, you can spend hundreds of hours with mentors, but when it comes right down to it, Leadership is Personal…there are no best practices. Sure, there are techniques, but just as every person is unique, every leader is unique. You have your own strengths and your own weakness. Harness them to lead. Our CEO, Jim McClelland, often says “Accentuate your strengths and make your Weaknesses irrelevant”.

Lesson Number 2: The Bystander helps put things in context – Professor Ancona led us through the four roles of a team: The Mover – the person that suggests an action; The Follower – the person that supports the action; The Opposer – the person that pushes back on the idea for action; and The Bystander – the person that provides context, the big picture and perspective. (Li, I now know what you meant when I asked “Why do I need to be in every meeting” and you responded “You help put things in context and provide the big picture”).

Lesson Number 3: Don’t brick in your teams – teams that are internally focused on norms, team dynamics, and tasks are are only half right. X-Teams (if you don’t take the class, at least read the book) are teams that are networked to others within the organization and outside the organization. By reaching outside the team, the resulting product (whatever the product the team is tasked with producing) is better. Leveraging expertise outside the group when sensemaking (again…take THE CLASS) provides a richer context. Reaching up within the organization and engaging in the politics of the organization is essential for success, as is task coordination across all of the players in the project.

Now, for the actions:

Action Number 1: When in meetings, assess the dynamics of the conversation and make sure that all four roles are represented. If one or more of the roles are not equally represented, I will step in and assume that role, or encourage others to assume that role. For example, if no one is The Opposer, I will suggest to the team that we spend some time discussing why the idea for action WON’T work.

Action Number 2: Encourage everyone on our team to “get out”, go “be in the business”, walk a mile in our mission partners’ shoes (I hate the term end-user, I prefer business partner, or mission partner). Not only will that help with sensemaking, it will enable others in the group to play the Bystander role and set context and perspective.

Action Number 3: Review our previous and on-going projects and identify areas where we may have struggled. Map them against the 4 Capabilities of a Leader (Visioning, Relating, Inventing, and Sensemaking) to see the areas for improvement. Was the vision not clear? Did we not engage the stakeholders? Did the actions not match up with the goal? Did we not spend enough time sensemaking?

There you have it! As I mentioned in one of my LinkedIn posts, you are all now my accountability partners. Follow up! Make sure I am executing the actions!

Now, about those Sky Carp, er, uh, I mean geese. What leadership lessons CAN you learn from a flock of geese? Leadership is Distributed…to lead, sometimes you follow and let others lead. Watch a flock of geese fly over and you will see the goose out front, drop out of formation, a new goose take the lead, the former leader fall back into the formation. Distributed decision making means sometimes the leader becomes the follower.

Want to exchange ideas on Twitter (@jtongici)?
Expanding your circles on Google+?
Read more of my musings on LinkedIn.
Interested in IT and it’s role in business? Check out my posts on Intel’s IT Peer Network.

 

Bet you thought this was going to be about something other than leadership, didn’t you? Sorry to disappoint!

I awoke this morning to one of nature’s most beautiful landscapes. After a freshbusiness, leadership, connectivity, technology, marketing snowfall, the Mud Creek valley was a winter wonderland. At first glance it is a world of black and white. However if you look closely it is a palette of dozens of shades of black:  charcoal, ebony, midnight blue, onyx, noir, and jet; dozens of shades of white: snow, ivory, cornsilk, powder, cream, and antique; and yes, dozens (though I didn’t count to 50) shades of grey: light grey, silver, Davy’s grey, ash, slate and Xanadu. There are even shades of greens and browns.

It struck me as I drove my morning commute through the Mud Creek and Fall Creek Valleys that leadership is a lot like a winter landscape. At first glance, many of decisions, opportunities and challenges appear to be black and white, but as we grow as leaders we realize we are really operating in a world of shades of grey. The successful leader slows down to appreciate the landscape and makes thoughtful decisions based on the nuances of a very complex palette.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

Bet you thought this was going to be about something other than leadership, didn’t you? Sorry to disappoint!

I awoke this morning to one of nature’s most beautiful landscapes. After a freshbusiness, leadership, connectivity, technology, marketing snowfall, the Mud Creek valley was a winter wonderland. At first glance it is a world of black and white. However if you look closely it is a palette of dozens of shades of black:  charcoal, ebony, midnight blue, onyx, noir, and jet; dozens of shades of white: snow, ivory, cornsilk, powder, cream, and antique; and yes, dozens (though I didn’t count to 50) shades of grey: light grey, silver, Davy’s grey, ash, slate and Xanadu. There are even shades of greens and browns.

It struck me as I drove my morning commute through the Mud Creek and Fall Creek Valleys that leadership is a lot like a winter landscape. At first glance, many of decisions, opportunities and challenges appear to be black and white, but as we grow as leaders we realize we are really operating in a world of shades of grey. The successful leader slows down to appreciate the landscape and makes thoughtful decisions based on the nuances of a very complex palette.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

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I have a confession.

I am a groupie. I am sure many of you remember the 70’s and the “Dead Heads”, that group of hippies that followed the Grateful Dead all over the country. No, I haven’t been following my favorite rock band but I really AM a dead head because I’ve been following two dead guys all over the country for years!

Over those miles traveled, I have learned about history, our country, and, yes, I have learned about leadership. How these two men were able to lead their men (along with a woman, Sacagawea) across the un-explored continent and bring them home safely  can give us insights today into how to grow leaders, how to create effective teams, and how to create an environment of truth, transparency and candor. In my eBook, which you can download for free at the link at the end of this post, I explore ten traits of a leader using one of the greatest leadership books ever written, Lewis and Clark’s own journals.

A leader:

is Transparent

Many books today that discuss transparency focus on the outward flow of information to the marketplace. Some books will also encourage leaders to be open and honest with their employees. Still fewer books will talk about encouraging those employees to be open and honest with management. I believe leaders must first be transparent with themselves. They must look at themselves without any of the guises of self-deception. I believe the transparency that had been established between Thomas Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis laid a solid foundation for the planning of the Expedition. It was this foundation that led to William Clark being enlisted as co-captain with Lewis.

is Honest and Truthful

During the time that the captains were recruiting the members of the expedition they could of painted a rosy picture of a trip of adventure and romance across the country. Instead they were honest about the risks, the hardships, and the dangers of the journey. Today, whether we are recruiting new employees, or launching a new project, or discussing issues, we must be honest and truthful with our teams, our customers, and all of our stakeholders.

is Accountable

Accountability is one of the most difficult traits of a leader. For accountability to work, however, it must be combined with consequences. It is one thing to tell Joe he is accountable for a deliverable. It is quite another thing to hold him accountable by having consequences when he doesn’t deliver. Throughout their journals, especially in the early days of the expedition, there are many examples of the captains holding the men (and themselves) accountable. While I don’t suggest we use running the gauntlet, court martial, or even loss of whiskey privileges (seriously, I would never go to the extreme of denying someone their grog!) today, I do think we can learn lessons about laying down expectations and holding our teams accountable with fair and consistent consequences.

is Patient

With accountability and consequences, comes the fourth trait. A leader is also patient. The youngest member of the Corp was Private George Shannon. Shannon had a propensity for getting lost, not a good thing on a trek through the wilderness. Once while he was lost, he was able to feed himself by shooting a stick out of his rifle and killing a rabbit (resourceful might have to be added to this list). However, the captains were patient with Shannon and trained him. After the expedition, Shannon became a lawyer in Lexington Kentucky. I think, more than any other trait, we are called upon to be patient when others might “get lost” along the way. We train, we teach, we mentor, we do not adjust our expectations, or the consequences of accountability.

Seeks Input

Decision Point is one of my favorite spots along the 8,000 mile Lewis and Clark Trail. It is there, at the confluence of two rivers, the captains halted the expedition to explore both channels to ensure they selected the right channel before proceeding on. They examined all the evidence and made their decision. How many of us have experienced managers that make decisions without gathering all the facts or seeking input from those around them? It can be devastating to morale and team energy, in the best case. Great leaders use the knowledge and expertise of those around them to make their decisions. They also take the time to explain their decisions. Why can be just as important as what.

is Committed

To be successful leaders must be committed to the mission. Our response to challenges will serve as positive and negative examples to those around us. If we explode in anger or frustration, or if we give up completely our teams will lose confidence in us and they too will give up. The journey of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery has countless examples of being committed to the mission. In fact, they used the phrase “we proceeded on” so many times in their journals I am unable to count them.

has Integrity and Character

Admits Mistakes

One story in the journals provides us with two lessons in leadership. Our captains were not perfect. While faced with the long trip back to St. Louis, the Corps needed canoes. Unable to barter for one, Lewis ordered some of the men to steal one. In my opinion and in reading between the lines of the journals, Lewis had to fall several notches in the eyes of his men. Not only did he order them to steal one, we have no record of Lewis ever admitting his lapse in judgement. It is interesting to note, he doesn’t even retell the story in his journal. Leaders must manage themselves with high integrity and solid character. A great leader will do this in their personal as well as professional lives (those photos on Facebook, may NOT be a good idea!). When we do stumble, or make a mistake, we have to own up to the mistake, take responsibility for the mistake and learn from the mistake.

is Flexible

Throughout the three and half year odyssey, the Corps only retreated one time. When faced with snow “deeper than the trees were tall” while crossing the mountains, despite being anxious to return home, the captains called a retreat. The Corps returned to the base of the pass and waited with the Nez Perce tribe for the snow to melt. They waited almost two months. This showed flexibility (and perhaps wisdom!). Strong leaders must know when to “proceed on” and when to retreat, regroup, re-evaluate and adjust the strategy.

Takes Risks

Leaders must not only be willing to take risks, but we have to create an environment in which our co-workers are willing to take risks. If our teams are afraid of harsh consequences or an explosive boss, we may be leaving significant discoveries on the table. The entire Lewis and Clark adventure was a lesson in risk taking. However, there are several examples, where because the captains knew and understood the mission, they made decisions to accept even more risk. One such time was on the return journey when they divided the Corps into four smaller parties to help accomplish the mission.

Upon their return, Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery were celebrated all across our young nation. The knowledge of our country, the native peoples, the plants and animals was expanded dramatically almost over night. Not only were these sciences advanced, but, as I hope you have seen, so to was our knowledge of the traits of leadership.

Download Everything I Learned About Leadership

If you would like to read the entire eBook, you can download by clicking on the cover.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.